IHLEN - Split Rock Burgers & Brews opened for business Friday at Ihlen’s 102 Waldo St. in the building that was home to The Glass House before that restaurant closed last year.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better soft open weekend,” said owner/operator Darcy Gabar.
She explained that guests were given comment cards to describe their experience at Split Rock.
“We asked people to be brutally honest, because this was the weekend to work out the kinks,” she said.
The restaurant garnered plenty of positive feedback.
Gabar explained that one commitment of Split Rock is to offer fresh food, including never-frozen beef patties and fries.
“I don’t want assembly-line food,” she said, promising there will never be a buffet or a salad bar.
The menu, which began with eight burgers over the weekend, comprises mostly burgers but also offers appetizers, wraps and a few other options. Gabar recommends the Philly Rock or the Colorado burger.
“The bone-in chicken is to die for,” she raved. “And please save room for the rum cake.”
As for beer, Gabar estimated the restaurant offers at least 30 varieties, including Kick the Can by Take 16 Brewery in Luverne. Split Rock will continue to offer various Take 16 beers going forward.
Two beers and one cider are gluten-free. There are also three wine offerings, as well as blended drinks.
The restaurant also accommodates gluten sensitivities by offering lettuce wraps. Gabar added that she’s planning to visit the gluten-free bakery in Brookings, S.D. to consider sourcing some buns from them.
Another major commitment of the restaurant is staying eco-friendly. All of Split Rock’s to-go containers are recyclable. Straws are available only on request. Staff cut apart all plastic six-pack rings so they don’t end up around the necks of marine life.
Gabar has ambitious goals moving forward.
“In less than three years, we want to have a burger for each of the 50 states,” she said.
She also hopes to expand her share in the business.
Gabar and her business partner, Tom Abrahamson, each own half of the restaurant. She hopes to buy out Abrahamson in three to five years, while he would maintain the building.
Abrahamson purchased the building in September and immediately invited Gabar to be his partner. She had reached out to him years before about going into business together, but at the time, he wasn’t interested in the project she was proposing. This time, it was the right fit for both of them.
From Oct. 1 to May 30, Gabar and Abrahamson worked to make improvements so the building would pass inspections. It took another month to work out the last of the details before opening.
“I had to fight for it, but it’s a gift,” Gabar said of her well-earned success.
Gabar is well-suited to her new role because of her extensive experience.
She used to own a full-body salon in the Twin Cities, and she turned a profit in her first year of business. More recently, she managed the Calumet Inn in Pipestone.
When Gabar was 18 years old, she worked at the second-busiest Perkins restaurant in the United States, she noted.
“That crew taught me teamwork,” she said - a lesson she never forgot. Her collaborative spirit extends to Split Rock, as 10 of the 14 employees - all of whom hail from Jasper and Pipestone - are cross-trained in every position.
“We all believe in each other, and that’s what makes this work,” Gabar added. “Nobody thinks they’re better than anybody else who works here.”
Gabar is also motivated by her magnanimous heart.
“I just want to make everybody’s life as happy as possible,” Gabar said. “This is what I’m supposed to do.”
Gabar said her biggest secret to success is her strong belief that everything happens for a reason. She was unable to find investors when she tried to open a restaurant in the past, but her dream has finally been fulfilled exactly as it was always supposed to, she concluded.
Split Rock is open Thursday through Saturday, when doors open at 3 p.m. The kitchen is open from 5 to 10 p.m., and bar pizza is served until 2 a.m. On Sundays, there will be made-to-order breakfast from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and burgers from 4 to 9 p.m.
Split Rock will have a ribbon cutting with the Pipestone Area Chamber of Commerce at 4 p.m. Friday. Attendees are encouraged to hang out afterward and enjoy a burger.